Chilean conglomerate Antofagasta had no luck winning approval to mine in the pristine Minnesota wilderness under the Obama administration, ultimately leading to a lawsuit in 2016 against the federal government’s blocking of a planned copper mine.
But according to The New York Times, the winds changed as President Donald Trump settled into the Oval Office, and the company’s dream of mining what is “believed to be one of the world’s largest undeveloped mineral deposits” could soon become a reality.
Concerns over the mining endeavor surrounded the Boundary Waters, “a vast landscape of federally protected lakes and forests along the border with Canada” that is home to thousands of species, including the gray wolf and Canada lynx.
But the area is also home to an estimated four billion tons of copper and nickel ore, the Times said — and a potential economic boom for the local population.
Antofagasta took control of the project in 2015, run by the subsidiary, Twin Metals Minnesota, and has spent about $450 million so far. The company, controlled by the family of the billionaire Andrónico Luksic, stands to “benefit from the growing use of copper in renewable-energy technologies like wind and solar.”
Apart from concerns over Antofagasta’s environmental record, which includes toxic spills at its Los Pelambres copper mine, environmentalists, ethics experts, and Democratic lawmakers have also raised concerns over a seemingly sketch arrangement between Luksic and members of the Trump family.
Just prior to Trump assuming office, Luksic bought “a $5.5 million house in Washington...with the intention of renting it to a wealthy new arrival to Mr. Trump’s Washington,” the Times reported.
Those renters turned out to be none other than Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
Though all parties have claimed the rental agreement had nothing to do with the Boundary Waters project, and neither Kushner nor Ivanka are personally working on the issue, that such an arrangement exists while the Trump administration has treated the mining project with utmost urgency does not sit well with some individuals.
In March, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter to the interior and agriculture secretaries offering his concerns over the mine proposal.
Grijalva wrote that the departments “blatantly ignored scientific and economic evidence” and raised the “interesting coincidence” of Luksic’s rental arrangement with Kushner and Ivanka.
However, Luksic has been accused of corruption in the past. In Chile, “he has faced claims of attempts to win favor with the family of a former Chilean president,” the Times noted.
Whether or not the arrangement between Luksic and members of the Trump family was intended to curry favor with the current administration, the wealthy and powerful Luksic has indeed found favor.
The Trump administration’s work to override Obama-era obstacles to the mining project began less than two weeks after inauguration. Emails and other records “obtained through records requests by Louis V. Galdieri, a documentary filmmaker, and the Sierra Club, an environmental organization” reveal that the White House had “expressed interest in the Twin Metals matter.”
By December 2017, the Interior Department had opted against denying the company lease renewals, and just last month officially renewed the leases with some restrictions, the Times said.
The Forest Service also nixed its mining-ban review, which could have provided further restrictions on the company’s project.
President Trump himself has praised his administration’s work to undermine his predecessor’s attempts to protect the environment from the effects of mining.
During an April trip to Minnesota, the Times noted, Trump said, “Under the previous administration, America’s rich natural resources were put under lock and key.”
Since he took office, however, the changes have been “really pretty amazing.”